Meet attorney Monica Zent. Back in college, she dated a guy who turned out to be a pretty bad fellow. In fact, he murdered his parents and a sibling so he could take over the family fortune. The boyfriend, Dana Ewell, and his college buddy, Joel Radovcich, were accused of murdering Ewell's mother, State Bar Board of Governors member Glee Ewell, her husband Dale, and their daughter Tiffany, on Easter Sunday in 1992. Zent was investigated, but no one could prove any involvement on her part, other than her apparent lack of desire to cooperate in the investigation that led to her boyfriend's murder convictions, and the fact that he used some of the money to pay for part of her law school tuition.
Eventually, Ewell was convicted, and Zent went on to dump him, complete law school and build a successful law practice (and legal blog). For the most part, people forgot all about Monica Zent's connection to the story. Then, in 2004, some fellow named David Loya found about about the story, Zent, and her new successful life, and decided to send an email to her colleagues. On July, 2, 2004, Loya sent an e-mail to attorneys affiliated with the Zent Law Group. The subject line of the e-mail was “Monica Zent and murder for profit.” The entire text of the message read as follows:
“Monica Zent’s college boyfriend Dana Ewell was convicted of murdering his parents and sister. Read about it by typing in an internet keyword search using Zent’s and Dana Ewell’s name.”
This made Zent quite angry. Naturally, being a lawyer, she sued. Loya filed an unsuccessful "Anti-SLAPP" (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) motion, asking the court to find that his email was protected speech on a matter of public interest. The court denied his motion, and Loya appealed. Now, because of that appeal, there is a Court of Appeal opinion that reminds not only Zent's colleagues of her scandalous relationship with a murderer, but tunes in people like me, with tantalizing facts like this, straight out of the opinion:
“Catch Me If You Can—A California Saga of Murder, Greed, and Two Heroic Detectives” ... was an account of the 1992 murders of Dale and Glee Ewell, and their 24-year old daughter Tiffany Ewell. It detailed the homicide investigation that led to the 1995 arrest of Dana Ewell, who was Dale and Glee Ewell’s son and Tiffany Ewell’s younger brother. The book also recounted Dana Ewell’s jury trial in 1998 with codefendant Joel Radovcich, and the ultimate convictions of both defendants on three counts of first degree murder. Zent was Dana Ewell’s girlfriend when he and Radovcich committed the murders and she continued to be involved with him for several years thereafter while investigators gathered evidence proving that Ewell was behind the crimes.
Zent and Dana Ewell met while they were both undergraduates at Santa Clara University and they began dating several months before the murders occurred. Their two families met during Easter weekend in 1992 at the Ewell family beach house at Pajaro Dunes. On the afternoon of Easter Sunday, April 19, 1992, Dana Ewell’s mother, father and sister set out to return to their home in Fresno. Later that afternoon Dana Ewell joined Zent and her family at their home in Morgan Hill. Dana Ewell spent the evening with the Zent family, including Zent’s father John Zent, an FBI agent. Zent and Dana Ewell returned to Santa Clara later that night. While Dana Ewell was spending time with Zent and her family that Sunday evening, his college friend Joel Radovcich was waiting inside the Ewell home in Fresno for the Ewell family to return home from the coast. He had a gun he had equipped with a home-made silencer. When they arrived home, some time between 5:00 and 6:00 pm, he shot all three of them, waited for night to fall and then made his way back to his home in southern California.
After the bodies were discovered several days later, Zent, her father John Zent, and Dana Ewell traveled together to Fresno. Police interviewed them and Zent and her father established that Dana Ewell was having dinner with them in Morgan Hill at the time his family was murdered. With the exception of this brief interview, Zent refused to talk to homicide detectives throughout the investigation. Over the next three years, during which the investigators set up extensive surveillance of Dana Ewell and Joel Radovcich, Zent continued to be involved with Dana Ewell. According to Souza’s declaration, the investigators located approximately 17 bank accounts jointly held by Ewell and Zent, in Fresno and in various locations in southern California.
Zent was with Ewell when investigators visited him in his dorm room at Santa Clara University in May of 1993, to talk to him about the investigation and its focus on his friend Joel Radovcich as a prime suspect. Ewell refused to discuss the case with them. Shortly after the detectives left, Ewell and Zent left the dorm together in Ewell’s Mercedes and eluded police by suddenly crossing several lanes of traffic on the freeway. Shortly thereafter they were seen at a pay phone where Ewell was making a call that police believed was to Radovcich’s pager, and Zent was waiting in the car.
Due to the deaths of Dana Ewell’s mother, father and sister, he took over management of the trust for his grandmother Glee Mitchell, who was in a nursing home. Some time between 1992 and 1995, Zent was granted power of attorney over the health care of Mitchell. Funds from Mitchell’s trust were rapidly depleted, spent by Ewell on himself, Radovcich and Zent. Investigation of financial records revealed, among other things, that a payment in the amount of $17,014 was made on April 18, 1994, from the Glee Mitchell trust to the University of San Diego, where Zent was then attending law school. Records showed an additional $39,701 was paid to Zent from the Glee Mitchell trust, including checks for $5,000 on March 7, 1994 and $9,950 on January 13, 1995. Investigators also found a handgun among Dana Ewell’s belongings, which had been purchased with a credit card bearing Zent’s name.
Ewell and Radovcich were arrested in March of 1995 for the murders of Dale Ewell, Glee Ewell, and Tiffany Ewell. Zent was not arrested or charged with any crime. She did not testify at the trial in 1998; however her father testified for the defense and during his testimony made favorable statements about Dana Ewell. A jury found both defendants guilty of three counts of first degree murder, with special circumstances of financial gain, multiple murder, and lying-in-wait. On appeal, the judgments were affirmed by the Fifth District Court of Appeal, in an opinion filed on May 4, 2004. A petition for review was filed in the California Supreme Court on June 14, 2004 and the petition was still pending on July 2, 2004, when Loya sent his e-mail to attorneys at ZLG. The petition for review was later denied on August 25, 2004.
These facts were discussed in a number of newspaper and periodical articles, as well as a popular true-crime book and a television segment. Yet Zent thought it was an invasion of her privacy to have someone tell people about in ten years later. Instead of letting a sleeping story lie, Zent made a case out of it, and now a new generation of people, including her current and future colleagues, have a Court of Appeal opinion to refamiliarize themselves with the story. Sometimes, when you think your privacy is being invaded, filing a lawsuit is maybe not the best way to restore and preserve that privacy.